School kids can't count in a country that claims to have invented zero

  • The overall facilities at India’s primary schools has improved overtime but children at government schools continue to witness alarmingly low levels in learning, says a report by the Annual Status of Education Report 2018
  • In 2018, one in every four children left grade eight without having basic reading skills.
  • The gender gap in enrollment, however, has improved in the past few years.
  • School kids who could do basic math has fallen to 28% in 2018 from 37% in 2008.
“Cow is giving kerosene, kids can't read at 17” are the lyrics from the famous 80s song “Touch of Grey” by the Grateful Dead. But these words seem apt in 2019 for India with its leaders busy selling the idea of cow urine as a cancer cure while the country’s school kids cannot even do basic maths.

A recent survey, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2018 by NGO Pratham,
threw out some basic maths and reading questions at Grade V primary students and the responses were alarming.


The number of class V students who were able to perform on basic maths has dropped dramatically to 28% from 37% a decade ago. Nearly 72% students in grade V had no clue about the concept of division in mathematics, and the vast majority could not even manage a simple division of a three-digit number. The situation was equally worrying for class III students as only a third knew how to subtract.

The struggle is not limited to just one subject. School kids in India are facing difficulties in reading as well. In 2018, one in every four children left grade eight without having basic reading skills. In 2008 most of the students (84.8%) studying in grade VIII were able to read grade II but the number has fallen to 72.8% in 2018.

This is despite extensive efforts by the government to improve facilities, and the country’s Right To Education Act, which makes access to education a fundamental right.


The survey studied 596 rural areas across 28 states in India and covered 350,000 households and 550,000 children

Shrinking gender gap a silver lining

India has long been a poster child for discrimination against women, but it appears that the situation at least at the primary school level may be improving slightly. The percentage of girls leaving school between the age of 11-14 has fallen to nearly 4% in 2018 from 10.3% in 2006 . In fact, girls between the ages of 15 and 18 are also staying at school.


Gender gap in enrollment has also reportedly narrowed down. Presently, 4.1% girls between 11-14 age group drops the school after getting enrolled against 3.3% boys of same age. In 2008, nearly 7% girls left school in comparison to 5.5% boys.

Most of the state governments in India has been focusing on improving the facilities provided at government schools, especially provision of toilets, said the survey.

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